Scargill’s Man

The hacking of wood clacks through the cul-de-sac and I sense the charms of old child’s play, the ball in the yard by the garages and the uprooting of cabbages. They hang on the air like a scent waiting for me to inhale; I take one in and I see my brother jumping over the fence into the fields – running from what, I cannot imagine. The ginger-bricked back of the house is bare to the sun like it was twelve years ago. The garden has become an overgrown menagerie of experiments, with cabbages and carrots sharing the same plots. There’s ash from the fire sprinkled like icing sugar on the soil in one corner.
+++++There is turmoil in my gut.
+++++Mother will be in the kitchen, poised over dinner. I hear the yapping of a dog as I approach the back door. The knock is effortless and the noise spurs the dog into a tirade. I hate these long moments that flutter my stomach. I bring my hand to knock again, but the door opens a fraction.
+++++Have I the wrong house?
+++++I hear her sigh, and she backs away into the kitchen. I follow, feeling like an intruder.
+++++The interior is dark like I remember it; behind curtains that stay closed. Slivers of light cut through the kitchen and slash the room in slats of light. She’s at the sink cleaning potatoes. There’s a purposeful, rhythmic motion to the way she puts them in the bowl, cleans them and places them on the plate. She always keeps the skins on them: ‘good for yer skin and keeps the bones healthy’ she’d say. The wallpaper is fading and curling by the mantelpiece over the fire. The pots on the fire are bubbling away, anticipating the dinner table.
+++++She walks to the pots and stops midway. She puts a hand to her waist and gasps. “So you’re back. How long for this time?”
+++++“I finished. I’m back for good.”
+++++She acknowledges this with a “hmm” and rubs her nose.
+++++“How’s things?” I ask.
+++++“How do you think? We manage. Tommy still thinks it’s 1984 and I get this every day now.”
+++++She indicates the clacking noise of a hammer. “Well, close the door then, there’s a draught.” She continues to her pots of vegetables, gives them a stir and sniffs at them.
+++++“I see you’ve got another dog,” I say, trying to spark conversation. Yet somewhere I know it’s a waste of time and we’ll get to the subject. I hear her sigh as she turns and swipes the dog off her chair. It’s a sideways swipe that hasn’t lost any of its potency. I’ve been its victim many a time.
+++++“I suppose you’ll be wanting your dinner?” She gives her snuff box a tap with her ringed finger and sniffs a pinch in each nostril.
+++++“Is Tommy around?” I ask. My brother never left the roost. Wouldn’t leave; couldn’t leave. He was incapable of it.
+++++“Hear that? That’ll be him. He’ll be in the yard. Keeps him out of mischief. Then he’s off to where the pit used to be.”
+++++She quickly glances at me, then back to the fire. Her face is taut and there’s indifference in her eyes, but I wonder in time if I’d see the warmth of her laughter as I did that Christmas years ago.
+++++“You know he asks for you. Every morning. You didn’t know that, did you? I never told him you’d gone. The doctors said not to.” She snorts and jabs at the fire with a poker.
+++++“He’s outside?”
+++++“In the yard. Waiting for you. Every day for twelve years.”
+++++Has it been that long? Twelve years since the accident?
+++++I notice the woodchips and nails before I reach Tommy. A mosaic of pieces matt the floor. It takes years to create this type of pattern. He’s whistling as he works; a tune I barely remember from school. He doesn’t notice me but continues to work until sweat beads his brow. A fervour I know only in my brother, it’s always near manic momentum when he starts.
+++++He is constructing a banner of sorts, yet to be daubed with a slogan. Around him lay all manner of unfinished projects in various guises, no doubt ready for the final touch or approach of a muse to guide him. He straightens like Mum and stops. He gazes intently at something in the cherry tree and smiles – there’s a dreamy look in his eyes. A bird in the tree has captured his attention like it nearly always did as a child.
+++++He wears a pair of what look like school trousers, a piece of string tied around his waist as a makeshift belt. Above the belt hangs a bristling belly. It’s not the belt that makes me pity him; it’s his sockless brogues below the too-short trousers. His donkey jacket is splattered in paint – the letters NCB are on the back, printed on a once-bright orange band. He wears glasses now, though he always had that look of grim determination when a task was at hand. The lines round his eyes were evident through years of projects and protest. Maybe he was the show of the village, this man stuck in 1984; a revolutionary Marxist against the government of that time.
+++++“Here, pass me that, will you?” He points to the paint pots and I pass him the brush. It’s slick with paint and he starts to daub a slogan on the board. He hasn’t even looked at me.
+++++“What are you up to, Tommy?”
+++++“We got a big day today, bro.” He passes me the brush. “Dip it,” he lisps.
+++++I dip the brush. “Big day?”
+++++“Er…hello? What planet you on?” He says it like I’m a dimwit.
+++++“The same one I landed on with you.”
+++++He turns to me and raises his glasses from the bridge of his nose. “Where’d you get to?”
+++++Does he know?
+++++“I had to go.”
+++++“Not good enough, bro. You were meant to be here this morning. You’ve got some catching up to do.”
+++++You’re not wrong there, brother. Try twelve years of it.
+++++He points to the other banner. “I’ve done that one for you. Crack on.”
+++++I pick up another brush but I don’t know what to write. There’s an echo inside of me; it’s been trapped there all this time. I need to say something. I feel like a time traveller. I have just jumped backward and forward in time and fixed in a twilight zone.
+++++Then I get it. I finally get it. He’s living the day over and over again. The day he was struck by the brick. Jesus. 1984, April 12th; how could I forget?
+++++“There’s gonna be a crowd. The boys’ll be there. Scargill will be there.”
+++++“No, he won’t,” I say and know I shouldn’t have.
+++++There’s an uncomfortable silence and I decide to break it, but he beats me to it. “Aren’t you going to try it out?” He points to the banner lying on the ground.
+++++I pick it up and test it. I’ll play this one out and see where it takes us. He grins at me – it’s the same grin he wore the day we left for the march; the day of the accident. There’s a weariness in his eyes which I don’t think he’s aware of, but I know his mother is. Perhaps he’s tired, just tired of replaying the same old events day after day.
+++++Mother’s standing by the corner of the wall watching us, arms folded.
+++++“Don’t be late for dinner, you two.”
+++++There’s a tissue in her hand and she has that helpless look in her eyes. I want to hug her, tell I won’t leave again, but I know it isn’t the right time.
+++++“Yorkshire pudding and mashed tatties,” says Tommy with a grin, pushing the glasses back up with his forefinger. “Scargill’s gonna be there, and the lads. They’ll be at the picket line now, so hawaay then.”
+++++He turns and I see the scar on his back of his head where the brick opened him up. I want to tell him it was me and that I’m sorry, but I know it won’t do any good.
+++++He puts his banner on his shoulders and opens the black metal gate, holds it open for me. We used to vault that gate – well, climb up onto it and eventually vault it to escape Mum’s wrath.
+++++Now I see an emaciated Tommy wearily holding it open with that wry grin on his face. I sidle up to my brother and together we take the lonely road to the old pit site.